10/14/09

Rant On, Good Man

I have a dark, sick, nasty crush on British satirist and comedian David Mitchell, which is the opposite of my bright unicorns-and-flowers crush on Jon Stewart--although when it comes to their politics and their methods of delivering comedy justice, they resemble each other a great deal. Both are old skool gentlemen, of a sort, and they love to rant when the world's injustices and rudeness gets the better of their decorum. That's what makes them funny: watching a meltdown with a punchline.

In fact, Mr. Mitchell (it feels weird to call him "David" because I know he'd find it presumptuous and rude) is rather well known for his rants; he has them down comedic high art. Here's a delicious one about the Russians, which is short and contains no swearing.


So I've been quite tickled to learn--from Keven, God of Internetness--that Mr. Mitchell has a weekly column in The Guardian, the left-leaning national paper in Britain. Recently he ranted about how the media elevates motherhood, especially motherhood as it pertains to sports figures, to some place of irreproachable sainthood and extraterrestrial amazement.

I've always been galled by this pattern, how being a mother and an athlete, or being a mother and a CEO, or whatever, will make a woman's achievements more extraordinary. I find it all rather cheapening because we rarely hear about a CEO balancing the difficulties of fatherhood, and the few times we hear about sports figures' kids is when child support payments haven't been made or when one gets his girlfriend knocked up whilst still married. The exuberant praise of motherhood still feels a bit "pat on the head." Here's Mr. Mitchell's take on Kim Clijsters (full rant), who came back from babymaking to win the US Open:

What is strange about the reaction to her twofold achievement of becoming a mother and winning the US Open is that, despite the coverage all coinciding with the latter triumph, many openly opine that the former was more difficult. The Times said of it last week: "Winning a tennis match is a doddle compared with childbirth." I'd say it very much depends on whom you're playing. The final of the US Open is often what is known in sport as "a very difficult tennis match" because one's opponent is usually (again excuse the jargon) "amazingly good at tennis".

I'm not underestimating the challenges of child-rearing. The responsibility, sleeplessness and worry seem to me, a feckless bachelor, to be overwhelming. But while bringing up a baby and winning a Grand Slam may feel equally impossible, intellectually I know which I'm most likely to succeed at. I mean, I've got friends with kids and some of them used to try to light fags off an electric hob.

We have a very odd habit of unfavourably comparing remarkable and unusual achievements with feats that, while stressful, unpleasant or all-consuming, are routinely managed by millions. People pass comments like: "Climbing Everest's all very well, but it's nothing to the school run on a Monday!" or: "Try a Saturday night nursing shift in A&E and then tell me balancing the national budget is hard, Mr Chancellor."

High achievers often collude in this, as most are at pains to say that their family is the most important aspect of their lives. But that doesn't make it the most interesting or remarkable. However hellish the nursing shift may feel, working out a year-long spending plan for a G8 economy is objectively more difficult--even if you screw it up a bit.

Many people say the coping skills that parenthood makes you develop help you to succeed in professional life. In which case, it is those who win through without that help who should get extra credit: "He achieved so much despite having nothing at home but a fridge full of beer and an internet full of porn--now that's focus!"

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